Sunday, 29 October 2017

Marvel UK's Savage Sword of Conan, Take 2.

Marvel UK, Savage Sword of Conan #1
What a strange time 1977 was. It was a time in which Marvel UK appeared to be approaching death at full speed, with its roster reduced to just two comics, thanks to poor sales and plunging profits.

But then, just as it hit its lowest ebb, it bounced back like a super-charged yo-yo, launching The Complete Fantastic Four and Rampage within a month of each other.

And then, the month after that second title was introduced, it did it again. This time launching not a weekly title but its first ever monthly mag.

That mag was Savage Sword of Conan which was a familiar title indeed to the handful of people who'd bought the weekly comic of that name two years earlier, before its cancellation after just eighteen issues.

But Conan's not a man to go down without a fight and, despite that failure, Marvel UK refused to give up on the hyperactive Hyborian.

And so it was that November 1977 saw the start of his second bid for British stardom.

On the face of it, it was a strange move, as the new book was virtually indistinguishable from its US forebear which, judging by the number of issues I had of it, was readily available in Britain. Still, it must have been a good idea because, unlike every other Marvel UK book that had been launched since 1975, it was actually a success, lasting for a walloping ninety three issues and eight years.

Not only that but it signalled the start of a new direction for the company and led to them creating a whole bunch of monthly titles to supplement their weekly staples.

The first issue of the original US magazine - and the first Conan comic I ever owned - was issue #4 which reprinted John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala's take on Robert E Howard's Shadows in the Moonlight. So, how strangely ironic it was that the UK mag featured that very tale in its first issue. Why it was in issue #1 and not #4, I have no idea. Perhaps the good people at Marvel UK just liked the cover?

Marvel UK, Savage Sword of Conan #20
As for me, I can't say too much about the UK mag, as I only ever had one issue of it, which was issue #20 from 1979.

By that point, its similarity to the US book had been reduced by it adopting a cover layout that noticeably resembled Dez Skinn's Starburst magazine, a change which I assume Skinn himself was responsible for.

As for the insides, I remember the Conan tale featuring art by Pablo Marcos, which was a bit of a disappointment to me after being used to the likes of Buscema and Alcala.

The Red Sonja tale in that issue was drawn by Dick Giordano, which might be the only work I ever saw him produce for Marvel. I vaguely recall the Sonj working her way through a crypt or some such and having to see off various threats along the way, including something that resembled Pan.

Sadly, I've no memory at all of the Solomon Kane story. In fact, my knowledge of Solomon Kane comes entirely from that James Purefoy movie of a few years ago. The one that I remember so well that I thought it starred Hugh Jackman, up until I Googled it five seconds ago.

Marvel UK, Savage Sword of Conan #93
Anyway, there you have it. From a sea of failure, Marvel UK suddenly found a success and a whole new direction for the company, proving that barbarism can have its upside.

This is why, to this day, I insist on wearing nothing but a loin cloth, smiting my foes and drinking nothing but mead.

No wonder I lost my job at the bank.


Dougie said...

The Kane story was drawn by Chaykin. A revenge tale of the animated skeleton of a warlock slain in the Inquisition, IIRC.

Steve W. said...

Thanks for the info, Dougie.

Anonymous said...

Shadows in the Moonlight... I'm tempted to ask if that was the one that started off with Conan pursuing a scantily clad wench, but I suppose it wouldn't narrow things down that much.
At a guess Steve, I'd say they started off with Shadows because the alternatives weren't up to much - the lead story from the US Savage Sword #1 was a bit cobbled together and not very good, a reprint of Black Colossus from #2 had been quite widely available in the UK in '77 as part of the second Conan Treasury edition and I think the third issue kicked off with that Pablo Marcos story you weren't impressed with.

I recall getting really hooked on Savage Sword when they were reprinting the Buscema/Alcala People of the Black Circle together with the Barry Smith/Tim Conrad Worms of the Earth - Crom, what a comic for a twelve year old boy that was!
It never seemed quite as good during the Dez Skinn era, but that might well just be me growing up a bit and noticing that the stories could be somewhat repetitive...

The only Solomon Kane strip from SSOC that sticks in my mind is the one set in Africa, mainly because of a few pages with rather excellent Neal Adams artwork (before they pulled the old Alan Weiss bait and switch that Marvel had a habit of doing in the mid 70s)


Anonymous said...

Steve, the original American version of Savage Sword Of Conan definitely wasn't "readily available" where I lived - I never saw a single copy, only the UK version.

For some reason I missed the first seven issues of Savage Sword and I bought my first issue, No.8, on the same day that I saw Star Wars - Tuesday, May 30th 1978. I then bought SSoC on a regular-ish basis till early 1981 by which time I'd stopped reading Marvel UK altogether in favour of the imported U.S. Marvel comics.

"Shadows In The Moonlight/Iron Shadows In The Moon" is my favourite Robert E. Howard Conan story and, though I missed Savage Sword #1, I soon got another chance to discover "Iron Shadows" when it was re-printed (in colour!) in the Conan Treasury Edition which came out in November 1978.

Sean, Shadows In The Moonlight is the one where Conan rescues a scantily-clad wench who is being pursued. They end up on an island where they discover evil-looking iron statues that come alive in the moonlight...gasp ! There's also a band of cut-throat pirates! A killer ape! A huge parrot uttering a mysterious phrase from ages past! What more could you want in an adventure ??

I've recently been on a Robert E. Howard binge, reading all of his Solomon Kane stories (there were only six) and most of the Conan stories - so just to add to Dougie's comment, "Rattle Of Bones" involves Solomon Kane staying at a German inn where the inkeeper has a nasty habit of murdering his guests. Kane is saved when the skeleton of a former victim comes alive and takes his revenge on the inkeeper.

Anonymous said...

By the way, on the recent subject of Dundee - it was in Dundee that the videogame "Grand Theft Auto" was invented. And don't forget the glory that is Dundee cake! But my father came from Scotland and he never mentioned Dundee :)

Timothy Field said...

SSoC monthly is another Marvel UK title that seemed to bypass my little backwater town. Which is a shame as I was a huge Conan fan by this time, after reading his appearances in the weeklies I had found a number of secondhand REH paperbacks in a local junk shop, the first books I ever purchased with my own money. I may have seen one issue in one of the local newsagents though that may have even been the US version.

Steve W. said...

Does anyone know if the UK SSoC ever reprinted Red Nails? It would've been a surprising omission if it didn't.

Anonymous said...

Just looked up Savage Tales #2 at the GCD Steve - there are a few European editions in a list of reprints of the first episode of Red Nails but nothing for the UK, so looks like thats a no.

Maybe a reprint was thought to be redundant in the early years of SSOC as it had been widely available in the UK in the Treasury edition? And in the early 80s when comic shops had started to proliferate it was reprinted in a one-off edition so...
(Not that logic is necessarily applicable to Marvel UK, of course)


Anonymous said...

I wonder what was on the free poster in SSoC No.1 ? The only No.1 issues I had were Captain Britain, Rampage and The Complete FF containing free "gifts" of a cardboard mask and two plastic planes. I always managed to miss the No.1 issues that included cool posters.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't a Conan fan and so was never likely to pick this up, but I do vaguely recall thinking 40p for 52 pages didn't seem spectacularly good value compared to the weekly 32 (?) pages for 10p. Did the monthly SSOC offer anything other than more mature content? Were there colour pages? Given its reasonable success, I guess the target fans had more disposable income. The covers did always stand out at the newsagent.


Steve W. said...

Sadly, my internet searches have furnished no answers as to what the poster was. I hope it was by someone like Smith, Buscema, Vallejo or Adams and not one knocked out by the usual Marvel UK cover artists.

As for the price. As far as I'm aware, it had no colour pages. I suspect it was simply that, being a magazine, rather than a comic, it could get away with costing more.

Thanks for the Red Nails info, Sean.

pete doree said...

Regarding that wacky cover layout, I took the mick out of it slightly a while back on my blog, saying I hated it as a kid but liked it as an adult, and Dez himself posted a comment to say that it actually increased sales, Stan liked it, and it was then used on a few USA books ( a Starlord Marvel Preview for one ). So that was me very much told. I didn't mean it, Dez!

pete doree said...

Oh, and I've just been through the ol' longboxes, and the poster is a repro of the cover ( sans logo )

Anonymous said...

Steve, as I understand it the greater price of the monthlies was related to the need to cover fixed costs over a smaller publication cycle ie 12 issues a year rather than 52.
Dez Skinn had a piece on his website questioning the switch of Dr Who from a weekly to monthly which included a useful explanation of the economics behind the publishing schedules, but unfortunately it doesn't seem to be up at the moment.


Steve W. said...

Thanks for the poster info, Pete. I'm not sure if I'd have been pleased or disappointed to open up the magazine and see that poster inside. On the one hand, it's not very imaginative to have a poster that's the same as the cover. On the other, it'd be a great image to have on your wall.

And thanks for the financial info, Sean.

Anonymous said...

I understand the pricing from the publishers point of view, but was questioning it from the readers. That single monthly costs the same as four weekly comics. That Conan weekly failed reasonably quickly, whilst the monthly rolled on for a few years, with arguably the same material. It seems the 'prestige' of a monthly magazine did impact sales. Presumably they managed to tap into the mid to older teens who felt the weeklies were too juvenile but enjoyed the slightly more mature monthly. A 'not being embarrassed to read it on the bus' approach.


Charlie Horse 47 said...

I truly don't know how you folks kept up with a weekly schedule! I could manage 5 titles a month here in the USA as a kid. That was about it...